REVIEW: The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal

In brief: An author travels to Uruguay, just for the day, to collect some money and see his secret lover. The day turns out very differently than expected.

The good: A beautiful writing style and insight into different lives and cultures.

The not-so-good: The narrator is not very likeable for most of the story.

Why I chose it: Thank you to  Bloomsbury.

Year: 2021 (2018 in the original Spanish)

Pages: 142

Translated by: Jennifer Croft

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Setting: Argentina / Uruguay

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Woman from Uruguay is a curious novel about the calamities that befall a down on his luck novelist. His marriage is falling apart, he dreams of a woman he barely knows and he’s willing to break import laws to collect money for his work (some of which he hasn’t written yet) at a better exchange rate. Welcome to Lucas’ world.

The novella is written as Lucas explains to his wife in a kind of letter/confession what went on the day he travelled to Uruguay to pick up his money (for the better exchange rate) and see an old friend. But he also has other plans – meet with a woman he met at a conference and have sex with her. During the day, his plans go completely awry and involve a ukulele and a tattoo. It’s a mix of the downfall of a marriage with some oddly comedic moments as Lucas tries to get Guerra into bed several times but is thwarted.

Lucas is an odd character, full of contradictions. He is strangely obsessed that his wife may be having an affair, but doesn’t hold himself to the same standard, having flings with Guerra and his university students. Likewise, the money he is collecting in Uruguay will pay off his debts, but he spends it frivolously on a hotel room and the aforementioned tattoo and ukulele. He complains that he doesn’t have time to write the way he wants away from his son, yet takes no opportunity to do (e.g., on the ferry on the way to Montevideo). I found him quite unlikeable until everything turned pear shaped for him. This wasn’t because I was happy to see his downfall, but rather that Lucas’ tone changed when he hit rock bottom. He starts to face up to his faults, rather than complain he has been wronged – almost like a late coming of age (or a midlife crisis).

Jennifer Croft has done marvellous work with the translation. The fantastic writing is what kept me reading in the midst of the unlikeable narrator.

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